Does Digital-First Mean No More Print?

Corporate communication professionals have embraced the “digital-first” strategy in a big way. Recognizing the prominence of digital communication channels and basing design decisions on the use of those channels are commendable practices. Unfortunately, some have interpreted “digital-first” to mean “digital-only”.

Neglecting to include print as a channel that complements and enhances the performance of digital efforts is a mistake. Instead of relegating print to the “old technology” trash heap, organizations are better served by re-defining print’s role in digital communications and omni-channel strategies.


Deeper Sensory Engagement

Print is tangible. It can be touched, smelled, heard, and seen. Anything that engages multiple senses affects us at a deeper neurological level. Touching, for example, taps into our haptic memory and triggers a stronger emotional connection.

A variety of specialty coatings, varnishes, or finishes, like foils and die cutting elevates the haptic engagement of any printed piece.  Specialty inks can release smells like a fresh spring day, for example, and a printed postcard can add dimension to digital messages for soaps or detergents.

Print is multi-dimensional and multi-purpose. In addition to the standard corporate collateral and direct mail, think environmental graphics, indoor and outdoor banners and posters, signage and way-finding graphics, and vehicle wraps. Printed promotional items extend beyond t-shirts, bags, pens, and water bottles, to three-dimensional puzzles and hi-tech gadgets. All of these trigger the senses, tickle the imagination, and have long service lives. All make great add-ons to any digital-first campaign.


Better for Retaining Information

In a recent Forbes article, behavioral scientist Roger Dooley stated, “Rather than an all-digital world, it appears that a multi-channel approach that leverages the unique benefits of paper with the convenience and accessibility of digital will perform best.”  Consumer neuroscience research firm True Impact and other research institutions support this further by suggesting that printed marketing materials tend to outperform digital along several key dimensions including reading comprehension, recall, emotional impact and persuasiveness.

In addition, USPS studies have shown that people spend more time reading their physical mail than their emails, meaning they spend more time with a brand’s message, absorbing it on a subconscious as well as conscious level. For these reasons and more, marketers should consider a multi-pronged campaign with deeper messaging on paper and quick information hits on screens for an impactful double punch.


Imparts Stature

The web excels at distributing information quickly and widely, but print wows like nothing else. Well-executed print pieces, with high production values, glitzy effects, and eye-popping photos, convey high stature for a brand.


Personalization in Both Print and Digital

Marketers can easily personalize digital messages, but did you know that personalization in print can be accomplished using the same data?

A recent Accenture study of over 8,000 consumers revealed that 91% of the respondents were more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations.  Imagine the impact of printed direct mail with a personalized message and offer that matches the personalized digital outreach of the brand.


Cost Effectiveness

Advanced digital print technology now makes it possible to produce variable, personalized campaigns at affordable rates even in low quantities. Specialty finishing too, can be executed at reasonable costs. It may not make sense to send an intricately die-cut card to every customer, but strategically deployed to a segmented group, such a show-stopping piece can work ROI magic.


Generational Appeal

It’s true that older generations have an emotional, evocative attachment to printing. But several studies have shown millennials and other younger cohorts view print as a pleasurable novelty that creates a counterpoint to digital. Want to stand out to a millennial or Gen Z? Research the design trends for the specific generation with which you’re trying to engage and design a combination campaign that touches them with both digital and print communications.


Non-Intrusive and Long Shelf Life

For most of us, the bloom has faded on video calls and emails. They are disruptive. Coupled with spam filters, the variety of screen sizes, and the hit and miss nature of social platforms, it can be challenging to push a digital message through the clutter. It’s also difficult to know how recipients will experience a message from one screen to the next.

Print is not intrusive. We can read it at our leisure, and it is much more likely to stay around longer, be seen more often, and experienced as marketers intended.


Driving to Digital

Incorporating QR codes and pURLs into print can work wonders to drive recipients to websites or landing pages, and print can even kick start a social media campaign. With the escalation of consumers online presence, marketers have increased their digital marketing and advertising activities. But the messages easily get lost in our inbox and the ads are perceived as annoyances to our screen time. Incorporating print to become part of these digital campaigns can result in a much more engaging customer journey.

Imagine combining the advantages of digital marketing:

  • Laser-focused targeting
  • Personalized user experience
  • Highly measurable and flexible

With the advantages of print marketing:

  • More memorability and connection
  • Added credibility
  • Better engagement
  • Longer lifespan in the recipient’s hands

Creating amplified calls to action in both print and online.

Print may now have to share the spotlight of a marketing campaign in a digital-first world, but it is a critical strategic component that can’t be overlooked. Ask the experts at Bolger for professional advice about how your campaigns can pop with print.

How to Include Print in a Marketing Automation Strategy

Like many terms in the digital marketing lexicon, “marketing automation” is widely used in discussions and presentations but isn’t truly descriptive. Marketing automation usually focuses only on email automation and never embraces integrating print into the marketing automation mix.  Adding direct mail is easy and combining triggered email and postal mail boosts the results exponentially.


What is Marketing Automation?

Before discussing why you should add a non-digital medium to an automated digital process, a brief description of marketing automation will be helpful.

Marketing automation is any practice that automates the marketing process. Automation kicks in when a customer or prospect responds to a blog post, social media post, or cold outbound email produced by a marketing organization. The prospect may, for example, respond to offers for a free download, webinar registration, or request more information. Marketing automation software (popular brands include HubSpot, Marketo, and Salesforce Pardot) registers the customer’s response and initiates another action.

While dozens or even hundreds of actions are possible, a few typical activities include:

Email Marketing: Sends an immediate email to the customer and schedules additional automated emails to be delivered later in the sales cycle.

Lead Nurturing: Any marketing communication intended to further develop the relationship with a lead or contact, moving them through the buying process. Organizations can track the engagement of these activities and personalize the communications based on behaviors, interests, and perceived intent.

Social Media: The marketing organization can track what their audience posts across social platforms, who shares content, and with whom they share it.

Analytics and Reporting: One of the greatest benefits of automated marketing is accumulating data and providing analytics and reports. This helps the marketing organization decide what is working for them.

What might be missing here?


Print and Direct Mail

As marketing organizations customize the digital experiences of their audience, they have a chance to create a more relevant and personal experience by adding printed direct mail into the equation. Direct mail marketing continues as one of the most powerful marketing tools available, yet digital marketers using automation software tend to ignore it and therefore are missing an entire touch point opportunity. Adding triggered direct mail with email promotion and nurturing escalates message effectiveness in both channels.


Marketing Automation and Direct Mail

Before adding direct mail to a marketing automation program, you must define criteria and guidelines of who will receive postal mail (i.e. those most likely to respond to the offer). Each criteria will affect a trigger point. When a contact meets the criteria, such as a lead score, they automatically receive a piece of postal mail that matches the actions they have taken online. An inquiry from a male contact looking at a specific pair of shoes online would receive an entirely different direct mail piece than a female who clicked on an ad for a luxury purse. A contact living in Detroit could receive an entirely different mail piece than a contact living in Atlanta, and so forth. The more personalized and relevant the printed piece, the better the response.

The underlying thread of everything you’ve read about digital marketing and direct mail is the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, when considering response rates.


When to Mail: Lifecycle Based Triggers

Direct mail isn’t just for nurturing the prospect to complete the sale. While the medium excels in closing the deal by placing something tangible and permanent in a contact’s hands, it also supports the relationship post-sale. Post-sale communications should begin right after customers place an order. Don’t wait until it’s time to renew. Marketing automation systems send triggered emails based on customer behavior or events. The same strategy applies to direct mail.

Events that could trigger a direct mail piece or package include:

  • Welcome letter or welcome “kit”
  • Printed thank-you card for placing a new order
  • Printed certificate after reaching a loyalty or rewards point goal
  • An anniversary card celebrating the customer’s first order, along with a discount or gift

A direct mail piece is the perfect, personal way to complete a sale started by a digital response. Print is also a great way to build brand awareness and loyalty by adding direct mail to the marketing automation sequence. Several studies over the last few years have revealed that direct mail integrated with personalized digital messaging can produce a sales lift of up to 19%. Electronic media creates consideration, but print closes the deal.

Print – It’s Worth It!

With all of the communication choices and channels, why choose print? After all, you need a designer, a writer, a production budget, and possibly even a budget for mailing. Is it worth that kind of an investment?

In a word, yes. Any other answer would have had you falling off your chair, coming from a printer, right?! Print has exclusive, unique benefits not found in its digital cousin alternatives including higher brand recognition and customer perception, more reliable deliverability, and the potential for higher response rates. Shaking your head in disbelief? How about a few facts to back up each of these claims.

From Printing Press to the Brain

USPS OIG Neuromarketing Report CoverThe U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) worked with the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University on a study of neuromarketing. The researchers compared how consumers reacted to printed vs. digital communications and marketing materials, and analyzed actual physiological effects to measure the differences. They employed techniques such as eye-tracking, heart rate monitoring, and MRI scans to observe study participants as they interacted with both printed and digital.

This study revealed that what consumers say about how they regard printed and digital media and how their bodies and minds react to various marketing channels can differ.

  • Physiological responses showed study participants were more emotionally engaged and interested in the printed material than digital media, even though they grasped about the same amount of information from each source.
  • A week after they were exposed to print and digital ads, participants could recall the content of the physical material better than the digital ads.
  • Participants said they were equally motivated to buy products presented in physical or digital ads, but their brain activity indicated stronger feelings for the products and services advertised via printed material.
  • To test the strength of purchase intent, the researchers allowed study participants to purchase the advertised items and services. When it came to taking action, print out-performed digital.

Clutter, Staying Power, and Trustworthiness

Experts estimate consumers are exposed to approximately 5,000 ads per day. The vast majority of these advertisements are delivered via email, online search banner ads, social media, and television. A printed communication has much less competition, therefore earning more attention.

Electronic messages, like banner ads, have a brief shelf life. They vanish with a single keystroke never to be seen by an individual consumer again until an ad server decides it’s time to display it, based on bids for relevant keywords. In comparison, direct mail advertising lives in the household of the recipient for an average of 17 days (Mailmen), with 72% of direct mail recipients reading or scanning the mail they receive (USPS 2018 Household Diary Study).

The trust factor for print at 71% far exceeds that of online media at 25%. Consumers recognize that businesses who leverage direct mail and print communications have made a conscious decision to invest in that particular form of media for a multitude of reasons, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. It provides a more memorable, lasting, and trustworthy communication experience that is delivered directly into the hands of the recipient—with little or no competition— providing more of the following than any digital ad could ever deliver:

  • Comprehensive product or service detail
  • Additional useful content
  • Personalized or customized messaging and offers

Brand Consistency

Brands of all sizes and in every market segment spend an extraordinary amount of effort and dollars developing brand identities that include colors, fonts, imagery, etc. Turning their messages over to digital channels that provide minimal assurances about how their messages will look when delivered removes the certainty of brand consistency. Color reproduction and image quality varies by device, layout can be greatly affected by screen dimensions, and fonts are regularly substituted. There is only one medium that can guarantee that the recipient sees the ad, the message or communication exactly as it was designed and intended—and that is print. Reproduction is controlled and predictable.


Whether I send you a catalog or a card by way of the postal service, I am confident that it will be delivered to you and you will touch it and at the least scan it. In comparison, if I serve up a digital ad to you, you are likely to practice one or more “avoidance techniques” such as ad blockers, junk mail filters, unsubscribe requests, or simply ignoring and deleting it. The digital ad may have been delivered, but it’s performance simply doesn’t stand up to print.

In conclusion, yes, marketing via print is more expensive than digital channels. However, it’s clear that print makes a positive impact in ways that digital cannot. Want the best of both worlds? Connect your print marketing to digital marketing – include direct mail, email, landing pages, personalization, video, tracking and analytics!

Planning a multi-touch, multi-channel print and digital marketing campaign is in the DNA of Bolger. We’re proud of the talent we employ here within the Bolger print, digital, and mail facilities, and we are always ready to serve your needs. Print may require a budget, but our expertise and experience are free!